Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito?: Not Dale Earnhardt Jr. Taking a Concussion Break

The news this week that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sitting out the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte came as a total shock to those in the sport and fans alike. Despite being in the midst of a title fight, and heading to what is essentially his home track, Junior pulled the plug and opted to sit out the next two races.

Suffering two concussions in three months is not normal; suffering multiple concussions over the course of 10 years even less so. There are three other instances in his career that you can check off to him suffering a concussion: California 2002, Dover 2003 and the 2004 ALMS practice crash where he got knocked out for a second and suffered burns on his neck and legs.

A week earlier, Robert Griffin III, quarterback for Dale Jr.’s beloved Washington Redskins suffered a concussion against the Atlanta Falcons. Originally he was supposed to sit out, but returned to play this past Sunday. While RGIII and company won, another multiple concussion victim Jahvid Best of the Detroit Lions underwent further neurological tests following a concussion suffered one year ago. After suffering concussions in college and in his brief NFL career that began in 2010, he is still not cleared to play, and will likely not play again.

Considering the career of a racecar driver can extend into his 50s (see: Mark Martin) or even further beyond that (see: Morgan Shepherd), Junior has made the correct decision. Beyond that, the quality of life, and absence of the onset of dementia, seizures and other related maladies takes precedence over strapping into a car for a few hours which, in his case, would have apparently resulted in an engine failure. The guy has made a boatload of money and has found somebody who he might be able to enjoy it and his life with, and still drive competitively in the future if he wants to.

Racing with busted ribs or a broken wrist? Awesome. Racing with a bruised brain? It’s stupid and unnecessary.

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So far in this year’s Chase we’ve been treated to three fuel-mileage races, a drubbing by Denny Hamlin at Loudon and a green-white-wrecker gimmick gone awry at Talladega. Tell me again how adding a road course to the Chase is heresy and how they’re not that large of a part of the landscape of NASCAR. As big of a deal as is made of the Chase and it being a 10-round knockout battle, it’s simply not living up to the hype, likely turning off fan and casual fan alike.

Yeah, I know; we harp on it constantly, but just because FOX signed up for another decade doesn’t mean things are all good. Battles of years past would usually come down to a fuel-mileage race here and there – but all of them? Between the enhanced reliability of the cars, indestructibility of the CoT and fuel cells that hold 20% less fuel than before, without a debris caution or errant water bottle, more races are going to end in such a fashion.

It was interesting however being at the race this past Saturday in Charlotte and listening to Brad Keselowski shut his engine off entering turn 1 occasionally trying to stretch his fuel even before the final pit stop.

It’s interesting in the same way Formula 1 is interesting based on the strategy that plays out, but it’s not exactly Kyle Petty and Davey Allison coming to the checkered flag back in 1992. Oh and the next race? Kansas. With new pavement and a history of its own of drawn out green-flag runs, take a wild guess how this one’s going to end up.

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The emergence of Michael Waltrip Racing this year has largely been attributed to the trio of Competition Director Scott Miller, Clint Bowyer and Martin. One of the unsung heroes of this team’s rise to becoming a top-tier Cup team just a few years removed from being just another mid-pack lap maker, is returning for 2013 and beyond. Rodney Childers, crew chief of the No. 55 Toyotas driven by Martin, Waltrip and Brian Vickers was re-signed this week to remain atop the pit box for that group.

Childers had presided over MWR’s previous wins at Charlotte in 2009 and Chicagoland in 2010 with former driver David Reutimann. The team that shares seats with three different drivers is currently 14th in owner points despite suffering multiple engine failures this year and getting impaled on Michigan’s pit wall. Martin has captured four poles this year, was in position to win at Pocono, while Waltrip was in the process of passing for the lead at Talladega when Tony Stewart pulled a U-turn in the middle of turn 4. In Vickers’s seven starts, he’s notched three top-five finishes and four top 10s.

Considering he’s fielding a top-five car consistently with three different guys, Martin’s assessment of Childers being the most underrated crew chief in the sport is spot on.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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